A Wise Woman’s Medicine….

Herbal medicines and remedies have in recent years seen a rise in popularity. In the past they were dismissed by many doctors but thanks to studies and research during the last twenty or thirty years, their benefits are now being taken much more seriously….

Holland & Barrett Chrisinplymouth via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisinplymouth/4451251992/

Depending on the doctor, sometimes alternative medicines and treatments are available on prescription; a recent survey suggests two-thirds of doctors believe such treatments should be available on the NHS. Acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropracy and herbal medicine are all now regulated…. Other practices such as aromatherapy, massage, reflexology and meditation, although there is no regulation, are still considered as being beneficial and may be recommended. Chinese medicine and crystal healing are still dismissed as there is not enough scientific evidence….

A qualified medical herbalist will have a BSc (or the equivalent) in herbal medicine – and will have the same skills at diagnosing as a GP, having studied orthodox as well as plant medicine….

Of course, herbal medicines and remedies have been with us since the year dot…. The Romans, Greeks and Ancient Egyptians all used them as did many before them….at the end of the day there was little alternative and it was to remain so until we began to study medicine in a more scientific way….

Image: Public Domain Source: Wikipedia

During the Middle Ages most villages and neighbourhoods would have had a ‘wise woman’ (occasionally it could be a man – maybe a monk – but generally it was a female role). She would have knowledge of herbs, ointments and poultices – and may well have offered prayers and charms to help the process. Often she was a midwife too and people may have even sought her guidance when their livestock fell ill…. She was a valuable, respected member of the community – her knowledge having been handed down from generation to generation….

For more physical ailments people would have possibly visited the barber….many were able to perform surgical operations, pull teeth and set broken bones. A priest may have been called in to treat somebody with a mental illness ~ to drive out the ‘demons’….

A travelling barber-surgeon examining a man’s head: a group of locals watch with interest…. Etching. Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Generally, up until the 13th Century the Church had stood in the way of medicine, declaring it to be an unrespectable profession. A renewed interest in learning meant universities began to teach young men medicine…. In the beginning the Church was still very much in control, university trained physicians had to have a priest present to aid and advise when they administered to a patient….

13th Century illustration showing the veins…. Image: Public Domain Source: Wikipedia

The trained medical world was completely male dominated – women were excluded from universities…. It was also dominated by wealth – as only the rich could afford its services. The poor had to remain reliant on the popular healers, such as the wise women. Professionally trained doctors disapproved of this ‘folk-medicine’, keen to protect their own livelihoods and status…. It would hardly come as a surprise then if we were to learn that they did little to discourage the witch hunts that were to become epidemic across Europe and Britain during the 14th-17th Centuries….

Nobody knows the exact figure of how many were executed for witchcraft during this period. The number varied tremendously from country to country; for example in Germany there were some 26,000 recorded deaths – whereas, in Ireland there were just 4…. Studies have drawn conclusions that out of some 110,000 recorded trials – in total 60,000 resulted in conviction and consequently execution – three-quarters were women….

Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Five of these executions took place in Wales; the first was that of Gwen ferch Ellis (Gwen the daughter of Ellis) in 1594….

Gwen was born around 1542, in Llandyrnog, Vale of Clwyd, in Wales. At a young age she went to live with an uncle, where she remained until she married….

Her first husband died after only 2 years of marriage…. In 1588 Gwen remarried – this time it was to a miller and they lived at his mill in Llanelian-yn-Rhos; husband number two died 18 months later…. So, she married for a third time, a man from a neighbouring parish, Betws-yn-Rhos – and this is where they settled; the fate of this third husband is unknown….

According to records Gwen earned a living by spinning and weaving linen cloth…. She was also a healer, mainly of animals but would help people, especially children, when called upon…. She would make herbal remedies and salves and offer charms to help with the healing in exchange for small goods and food items…. Her charms always began “In the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”…. so they were actually more prayers than spells…. Verbal and written charms were not uncommon at the time….


Gwen was good at healing and was proud of her expertise; the wealthy sought her help as well as ordinary folk…. She struck up a friendship with a woman of the gentry, Jane Conway of Marle Hall, Conwy. Jane had an affair with Thomas Mostyn – a prominent gentleman of the time – Gwen knew of this affair, which in itself put her in a difficult situation…. Jane had a falling out with Mostyn and so it is thought she wanted revenge upon him…. Whilst Mostyn was away Jane invited Gwen to stay with her at Mostyn’s home – it is believed Jane persuaded her friend to leave a charm – although this is something Gwen denied ever doing….

However, a charm was found….one of a rather sinister nature…. This one was written from back to front, thus making it a bad spell rather than a healing one…. Accusations began to fly – Gwen’s friends advised her to flee but she was adamant she had done nothing wrong….

Gwen was arrested by William Hughes, Bishop of Asaph. At the initial investigation, held at Llansanffraid Church, seven people gave evidence against her, 5 men and 2 women…. 60-year-old widow, Elin ferch Richard of Llanelian-yn-Rhos claimed Gwen had sent her son insane…. Bailiff William Griffith ap William of Betws-yn-Rhos claimed she had put a demon in his drink. He also added she was responsible for his friend’s broken arm and the bewitching of his wife – who had become paralysed, losing the use of her arms and legs…. Another, Griffith ap Hughes of Betws stated that Gwen had made his sick brother, David ap Hughes, worse by giving him salt…. But the most damning accusation was that she had killed a man through her witchcraft….

Gwen’s home was searched. A statue of Christ rising from the dead and a bell without a ringer were found….this ‘evidence’ was enough for the authorities to associate her with the old Catholic ways….

Gwen was not afraid of the Bishop; she stood up to him and continued to protest her innocence…. However, she was found guilty at this initial investigation and taken to stand trial at Denbigh Court…. Here the verdict was upheld – Gwen was hung in Denbigh town square….

Gwen was the first wise woman to be executed in Wales, 31 years after witchcraft had been made a crime punishable by death in the UK. Most of those accused in Wales spent a brief period in prison before their cases collapsed. Gwen, for all intents, appeared to be simply no more than a healer – who, had she kept herself to herself and not got involved in the affairs of the gentry – would most likely have seen her own case collapse….

The witch trials were indeed viewed by many as a way of preventing women from being involved in medical practices…. It wasn’t until 1865 that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became Britain’s first female doctor and she had to use ‘back-door’ methods to gain this recognition. In 1876 universities finally allowed women to attend….

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Hospitals as we know them now did not start to emerge until the 18th Century. People in Britain had to generally pay for health care right up to 1948 – when our National Health Service was founded. Even at the beginning of the 20th Century a doctor’s visit could equate to half a week’s wages…. Sometimes treatment was available at Voluntary Hospitals; others sought help from religious communities, such as convents…. For those too sick or too poor the workhouse offered a primitive infirmary….

Perhaps nowadays we don’t always realise how lucky we are – we have the NHS. Maybe we take it for granted; sometimes we criticise it and yes, it is overstretched….but occasionally we should remind ourselves of how life was before it…. We give thanks to all those who work within it ~ keeping it going and looking after all of us….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers’ page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX

Cannibalistic Remedies….

Cannibalism…. What image does that conjure up? Missionaries stewing in a cooking pot somewhere deep in the jungle….or serial killers dining on ‘filet de jambe’, quaffed down with large quantities of Chianti…? There is no doubt cannibals belong in horror films – but eating human flesh has been with us since the beginnings of our time….

Europe has the oldest fossil evidence of cannibalism…. 100,000 year old Neanderthal bones found in the Marla-Guercy Cave in France had been broken by other Neanderthals in order to extract the bone marrow, skulls smashed open to gain access to the brains…. Further evidence revealed tools had likely been used to remove thigh tissue and tongues. In another cave, at El Sidon, Spain more gruesome Neanderthal finds….12 members of a family dismembered, skinned and eaten by fellow Neanderthals, some 50,000 years ago….

NYC – AMNH: Spitzer Hall of Human Origins – Neanderthal wallyg via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/415498434/

‘Neanderthal’ may be a term we sometimes use when we want to be demeaning – but in all honesty tens of thousands of years later, Homo Sapiens were not much better…. Even in so-called ‘civilised’ societies pure and simple cannibalism was not unheard of – especially in times of famine…. Christian Crusaders ate the flesh of local Muslims after taking the Syrian city of Ma’arra in 1098…. Human flesh was sold in British markets during famine times in the 11th Century and during the Great Famine of 1315-17 cannibalism reached extremes…. Even in 1612 Polish troops after a prolonged siege in Moscow succumbed – and there have been more modern-day examples; such as the 1970s Andes air crash of a Uruguayan Air Force flight….when survivors had to resort to eating human remains….

These were cases of survival – but could this be applied to the general medical practices of Renaissance through to Victorian times? I’m referring to ‘corpse medicine’ or ‘medical cannibalism’….

Ancient healers in Mesopotamia and India believed human body parts had healing properties – but the Romans took it to another level…. Their belief was that the blood from freshly slaughtered gladiators, still full of the essence of the brave, was a good remedy for conditions such as epilepsy…. They drank it, still warm, probably straight from the body…. Gruesome..!!

As time meandered on and medicine ‘advanced’….blood still played a key part. In 1492, as Pope Innocent VIII lay on his death-bed, his doctors deemed it necessary to try to save him by prescribing a tonic of fresh plasma…. Three young shepherd boys were brought forthwith and accordingly ‘bled’….but it was all in vain….the Pope still died…. and tragically, so did the three boys….

Public domain

The word ‘cannibal’ came to the English language in the 16th Century….from the Spanish ‘canibales’ – a term used by Columbus to describe natives of the Caribbean Islands who were rumoured to eat human flesh….

Public Domain

Medical cannibalism started with Egyptian mummies….burned and then ground to a fine powder. Trade of this substance became a huge business – it was a common ingredient of medicines all over Europe and in Britain…. King Francis I carried a pouch with him at all times….just in case….


Other body parts began to be used – the fresher the better…. Fat, bones, blood, urine – remedies including human remains became more and more commonplace and were thought to be cures for just about any ailment; headaches, epilepsy, coughs, contusions, ulcers…. The ‘spirits’ of those the remains were taken from were thought to still be within….blood was the essence and vitality of the body…. Recipes for the use of the remains would often be specific – the flesh of a young man who had died a violent death, complete with veins, arteries and nerves, for example….would give ‘strength’ – the belief a violent death meant the spirit of the man would remain entrapped….

“We preserve our life with death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life”…. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The menstrual blood of a virgin was a much sought after commodity – on the account of its ‘pureness’…. The afterbirth of a new mother still held the fetal spirit…. It just gets more bizarre….

The 17th Century physician George Thomson claimed the sweat from a terrified person about to be hanged (or having just been so) contained a good remedy for haemorrhoids – the idea being the fear captivated within would shrink the piles into submission….

Executions became a market place for entrepreneurs and sufferers alike…. The executioner would happily sell a cup of warm blood for a few pence…. 16th Century epileptics would wait cup in hand….hoping to cure their ailment – whereas, the poor would hope to sell their cupful to the wealthy, who preferred not to get their own hands bloody….

It was the wealthy who really fuelled the demand for corpse medicine…. Royalty, priests, nobility, scientists…. Charles II had his own personal concoction – ‘The King’s Drops’ – powdered human skull steeped in alcohol…. Thomas Willis, a 17th Century brain scientist, proclaimed a drink of hot chocolate and powdered skull could help apoplexy and bleeding….

Skull and Bones timbu via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/timbu/24383122368/

18th Century British preacher, John Keogh claimed pulverized human heart was good for dizziness – ‘a dram in the morning on an empty stomach’….

Human fat was used externally; a remedy for gout when applied as a salve….bandages soaked in the glutinous substance supposedly healed wounds….

It is said Protestants used human flesh during the rite of Eucharist….and monks made a special marmalade type preserve containing human blood….

Although the main source of human remains came from the bodies of executed criminals, the high demand for such parts obviously created a black market…. Grave robbers exhumed fresh graves….beggars and the homeless were murdered….

Image taken from page 133 of ‘Humorous Poems…With a preface by A.Ainger, and…illustrations by C.E.Brock.L.P’ British Library via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11303563053/

Thankfully by the end of the 18th Century the appeal for corpse medicine was beginning to wane….although remedies containing human parts were still available right up to the beginning of the 20th Century…. In 1910 a German pharmaceutical company continued to offer powdered mummy in its product catalogue….

We may well shudder to think of human remains being used in every day medicine – but back in the time it was considered completely normal and acceptable…. Just as today, with our modern-day equivalents; blood transfusions, organ transplants, skin grafts…. Perhaps in centuries to come people will look back and exclaim in horror “they used to use real body parts???” At least we no longer ingest human remains….but then again….what about those who choose to eat their placenta? Just saying….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….

Saint Patrick : Apostle of Ireland….

Up until the age of 16 Patrick had led a reasonably ordinary life…. Yes, he was the son of a Roman-British army officer/deacon and the grandson of a Catholic priest – but despite this he was not particularly religious…. Not an awful lot is known about his early life….just that he was born in the latter part of the 4th Century, in Roman occupied Britain; nobody is sure exactly where, possibly Scotland but most likely Wales…. It is thought he was raised in the village of Banna Venta Burniae…. Even his real name is uncertain but there are indications it could have been Maewyn Succat….

Saint Patrick Lawrence OP via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/16657109748/

At 16 years old Patrick (along with many others) was kidnapped by Irish pirates….he was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. The young Patrick found himself on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim, where for six years he herded sheep and pigs for his master. Long periods of time alone meant he began to question whether this was his punishment for his earlier lack of faith…. He turned to religion….

It was during a dream that a vision came to him….telling him he would soon go home and that his ship was waiting. Believing this was a message from God, Patrick managed to escape from his master and travelled some 200 miles to a faraway port – where with some difficulty he managed to persuade a reluctant captain to allow him aboard his ship…. Patrick returned home to Britain and his family….

By all rights this should perhaps have been the end of an ordeal that had dominated so much of his life as a young man – but it appears this was just the beginning….

Patrick had another dream – this time he was being called back to Ireland….the people wanted him to tell them about God….

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day National Library of Ireland on The Commons via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/16766126215/

Patrick was to return to Ireland but not straight away. First he went to France, where he studied for the priesthood at a monastery – possibly under Saint German, the then Bishop of Auxerre…. It was 12 years later, as a Bishop himself and with the blessing of the Pope he landed back on Irish soil, at Strangford Loch, Co. Down….

For the next 20 years Patrick travelled around Ireland, establishing churches and monasteries, baptising people and founding schools. As Ireland was a Pagan stronghold very often he would anger local Chieftains and Druids with his teachings, many a time he found himself imprisoned…. He was not above using a little bribery – presenting his captors with gifts in order to regain his freedom….

Saint Patrick baptising. Lawrence OP via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/16657121598/

As is so often the case with saints of long ago, many myths and legends surround Patrick…. One such story is the tale of St. Patrick’s Breastplate: Patrick and a companion were travelling to the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley to preach to the people; a place sacred to the Druids, once the ancient Capital of Ireland it was where the gods lived…. The Druid priests were keeping a watch out for Patrick, waiting to ambush him…. But all was quiet in the fields surrounding the Hill – just a deer and her fawn meandering along…. Unbeknownst to them Patrick had used his special powers (feth fiada) to turn himself and his companion into deer – and so using this disguise they were able to reach the Hill unstopped….inspiring the hymn written by Patrick – ‘The Deer’s Cry’ – which begins….

“I arise today, Through the strength of heaven, Light of the sun, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock”….

Hill of Tara – St. Patrick’s Statue & Pillar Stone. Diego Sideburns via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND. Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diego_sideburns/7115927727/

One of the main Celtic Druid celebrations is Beltane….a fire festival, marking the beginning of Summer. A fire would be lit at the top of the Hill of Tara by the Druid High King – from which fires all across the land would be lit…. Legend says Patrick defied this tradition by a lighting a fire of his own before the main event…. The Druid King sent his men to investigate – and they reported back that Patrick’s fire had magical powers and it could not be extinguished….they warned the King this fire could burn for all eternity…. Realising he was unable to put out Patrick’s fire – the King had to concede that the powers Patrick possessed were greater than his own…. Although he refused to convert to Christianity himself he allowed the Irish people to follow the Christian faith….

Patrick was not unsympathetic to the Druid beliefs…. It was whilst preaching one day next to a Pagan standing stone that he created the Irish Celtic Cross…. The stone was carved with a circle – a sacred Pagan symbol for the sun and moon gods. Patrick drew a Christian Cross through the circle, blessing the stone as he did so – thus uniting Pagan beliefs with Christianity….

Celtic Cross .and+ via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/raiadiff/2776934527/

Being aware that the number 3 held special significance in Celtic tradition, Patrick utilised this as a method of teaching Christianity to the people…. By using shamrock, the three leaved clover plant, he showed how each segment represented God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three elements of one entity…. The humble shamrock was to become the symbol of Ireland….


For any missionary there must have been times of despair – struggling to deliver a message that must have often appeared to be falling of deaf ears…. One such time of despair for Patrick may have been the time he spent in County Mayo, upon a mountain…. He had gone there for the 40 day period of Lent – perhaps to reflect and meditate – but instead was besieged by demons…. Demons in the form of black birds, so many of them the sky turned dark…. But still he continued to pray, refusing to be defeated…. Suddenly an angel appeared – a messenger from God…. The angel told him his work was being recognised – the Irish people were listening to him and they would remain Christian until Judgement Day…. The mountain is known as Croagh Patrick….

The holy mountain Croagh Patrick, County Mayo. EamonnPKeane English Wikipedia Public domain

Perhaps one of the legends we associate the most with St. Patrick is the banishing of all snakes from the land, by driving them into the sea…. It is doubtful there ever were any actual snakes in Ireland. The snake is a sacred creature to the Druids….this legend most likely gives the message that Patrick had succeeded in driving Paganism from Ireland….


Although Patrick can be attributed to converting Ireland to Christianity others had preached there before him – Palladius being one such – and becoming the first Bishop of Ireland. Patrick succeeded him as Bishop some time soon after 431AD and made Armagh, in Northern Ireland his base…. It was towards the end of his life that he wrote his memoirs, called his ‘Confession’….

“My name is Patrick, I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers”….

In his writings Patrick makes no reference to details such as the Hill of Tara, driving snakes into the sea, shamrock or indeed any of the myths and legends that surround him…. He talks of his spiritualism, his relationship with God, his time in slavery…. It is a direct insight into the man…. It has to be deemed incredible that these documents have survived all this time….

Patrick died on March the 17th – the year is a little hazy…. He is buried either in Armagh or Downpatrick…. We do know he was made a saint soon after his death and St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated on March the 17th ever since….

Saint Patrick. DonkeyHotey via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/13222409233/

There was a wobble in the late 17th Century…. in 1695 Parliament replaced many Catholic feast days with Protestant holidays – after William (of Orange) and Mary were placed on the throne….effectively St. Patrick’s Day became outlawed – but nobody took much notice. Eventually the Patron Saint’s Day was reinstated….

Nowadays modern celebrations usually include a procession to a holy place, a chapel or perhaps a holy well…. Mass and prayers are said…. Then there are the festivities; food, music, dancing and of course a good drink. Falling during Lent a very welcome interlude….

A party going on right here Sniggie via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sniegowski/33388080245/

St. Patrick’s Day parades did not actually originate in Ireland. It was in 1762 that Irish soldiers serving with the British Army marched through New York to music on March the 17th – an idea that caught on and became tradition, especially in communities in England with a large Irish population – such as Liverpool…. During the mid 19th Century, at the time of the Great Famine, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were obviously low-key; but – one thing that came from this was the globalisation of St. Patrick’s Day…. Mass emigration – Irish people looking for new lives across the World taking the celebration with them….


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…. Have a Guinness for me….


Agnes Waterhouse ~ the first British hanging for Witchcraft….

Agnes Waterhouse was born around 1503 and lived in the village of Hatfield Peverel, near to Chelmsford, Essex – and she was the first woman in Britain to be hanged for witchcraft….



Agnes was known locally as ‘Mother Waterhouse’, which would suggest she may have been a wise woman and healer. It appears she was rather an argumentative woman, repeatedly falling out with her neighbours…. In July 1566 Agnes was accused of witchcraft – along with Elizabeth Francis (believed to be her sister) and Joan Waterhouse, her 18-year-old daughter….



Elizabeth had a cat; a white spotted one called ‘Sathan’ – or Satan – given to her by her grandmother, ‘Eve of Hatfield Peverel’ – who taught her grand-daughter the secrets of witchcraft when she was 12 years old…. Sathan was able to talk; he taught Elizabeth how to make magical potions – and promised her a lifetime of riches – a promise that indeed appeared to have been kept, as she always had sheep in her pasture….

Sathan would do anything for his mistress – all he asked for in return was bread, milk and a drop of blood – her blood – which she provided by pricking herself and allowing him to suck from it….leaving spots on her skin never to disappear….

As a young woman Elizabeth took a fancy to an Andrew Byles – a man of wealth – to be her husband…. Sathan promised to get him for her….but in order for it to be possible she must allow Byles to ‘abuse’ her – which she did. Only things did not quite go to plan – for afterwards Byles refused to marry her. Enraged Elizabeth ordered Sathan to ‘waste his goods’ (destroy his property)…. Still not content she demanded the cat ‘touch his body’ (cause illness) – and so he did…. Byles subsequently died from his illness….img_0353

Soon after Elizabeth discovered she was carrying Byles’s child – so Sathan advised her which herbs to take to cause a termination of the pregnancy….

Elizabeth set her heart upon another man, Francis….although not as rich as Byles she decided she must have him and so set her trap…. After sleeping with him, once again she fell pregnant – they married and a daughter was born to them some three months later….

It was not a happy union, the pair fought constantly – family life was not as Elizabeth had expected; so when the child was just 18 months old she got Sathan to kill her….and inflict a lameness of the leg on to Francis – from which he never recovered….

By now Elizabeth had somewhat tired of it all – and this included Sathan who she’d had for some 15 years…. It so happened that she encountered Agnes one day, who was on her way to the ovens to bake some cakes…. Elizabeth decided to bestow the cat upon her as a gift – telling her that all she needed to do was feed him bread, milk and a drop of blood and he would do anything she wanted….in return Agnes gave Elizabeth a cake….


Agnes was eager to try out the cat’s skills…. She asked him to kill one of her pigs – more than willing to prove himself Sathan obliged. Having fallen out with a couple of her neighbours Agnes then got him to kill three hogs belonging to Father Kersey and drown a cow owned by Widow Gooday…. Each time Agnes rewarded Sathan with a chicken and a drop of her own blood. Realising the power at her fingertips Agnes began causing no end of mischief for her neighbours….ruining their brewing and butter making amongst other things…. Sathan taught her the art of witchcraft, how to terminate pregnancies and helped her to kill people…. As she wasn’t getting along with her own husband Agnes arranged his demise too – she spent 9 years as a widow before things finally caught up with her….

Eventually, for whatever reason, Agnes too had had enough of Sathan, he was beginning to cause her problems; so, she turned him into a toad – he was far easier to keep under control this way….


It was while she was away one day that her daughter, Joan, decided to amuse herself by playing with him…. Feeling hungry and as her mother had left no food, Joan went to the house of a neighbour to ask for some bread and cheese…. On arriving she encountered the neighbour’s daughter, 12-year-old Agnes Brown – who refused to give her any food. On returning home, Sathan offered her his help….providing she gave him her soul – Joan agreed to this…. Sathan went to visit the young Agnes and found her churning butter. The toad manifested himself into a demon – a black dog with horns – and asked the child for some butter….when she declined he then set about terrorising her….

butter 3
Image from page 10 of “The days of long ago, and Immortality (Antithesis of “The Rubaiyat”)”(1909) Internet Archive Books via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14790395683/

By now people were becoming suspicious of the tragic events and goings-on that seemed to surround Agnes and her cat…. It was after the death of yet another of her neighbours, William Fynne, who died on the 1st of November 1565 having suffered from an illness said to have been caused by her, that the accusations were finally officially made….

Agnes, Elizabeth and Joan were brought to trial in Chelmsford in July 1566, accused of witchcraft…. Agnes was cited as having caused illness that resulted in the deaths of William Fynne and her husband and also the deaths of her neighbours’ livestock…. But the evidence that actually convicted her was when the 12-year-old Agnes Brown testified against her…. Agnes’s first examination was on the 26th July, followed by a second one the following day….at which she confessed and pleaded guilty….

King Henry VIII had made witchcraft a felony punishable by death in 1542; some say he did this as he thought Anne Boleyn was a witch trying to harm him with her craft….img_0354

Agnes was hanged on the 27th July 1566. At her execution she asked God for forgiveness; when asked she said she prayed often but always in Latin to hide her doing so from Sathan, as he would not allow her prayers…. Along with her repentance she also added to the list of accused crimes…. She told of how she had sent Sathan to damage the goods of a tailor named Wardol and to do him harm….but the cat returned to her and said he was unable to do as he had been bade as Wardol’s faith in God was too strong. Agnes also confessed she had been practising witchcraft for 25 years….

Elizabeth was given a lighter sentence – but 13 years later she herself was hanged for a further conviction…. Joan was cleared during the trial; she had testified against her mother and Elizabeth helping to convict them – and so saving her own skin….

Agnes has been an inspiration for many writers and artists since – people remain fascinated by the story…. When we stop to consider what life was like back then it is hard to visualise how it must have truly been. In this modern scientific World that we live in, we know cats can’t talk to us, no matter how it sometimes seems like they can…. They certainly don’t go around killing pigs, cows and people and they definitely can’t turn themselves into demon dogs anymore than we can turn them into toads….

We also now have an understanding of that terrible illness dementia…. Many of us know only too well the heartbreak of having a loved one who suffers from this dreadful disease – the confusion, forgetfulness and sometimes argumentative, aggressive behaviour….

One can’t help wondering if the case of Agnes and Elizabeth centred on mass hysteria, the mischief of a 12-year-old girl, a couple of old ladies suffering from dementia and their obsession with a cat…. How many ‘witches’ hanged were actually people suffering from diseases of the mind? Not having any other means to explain odd, erratic, confused or aggressive behaviour it would not be surprising if people had considered those affected to be under the influence of the Devil himself….

Mad March Hares….

If you follow the meteorological seasons Spring is already with us; however, if it is the astronomical method you use, you will have to wait until March the 20th…. Either way Spring will finally be with us this month – and you might be lucky enough to spot a mad March hare….

Brown Hare (Leveret) Smudge9000 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smudge9000/34618450662/

Some believe the European hare (Lepus Europaeus) was brought to the UK by the Romans; whilst they most likely did introduce them to the rest of Europe (probably from Asia) there is evidence hares did not actually arrive in the UK until just after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nowadays the European hare can be found widespread throughout Central and Western Europe and most of the UK – preferring flat countryside with open grassland. As they are more active at night they will rest during the day in woodland and hedgerows….

Mad March Hares oldbilluk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oldbilluk/4454938937/

Hares are members of the Lagomorpha family and so are related to the rabbit, but unlike their bunny cousins they have never been domesticated. Although similar in appearance, hares are larger in size than rabbits; they also have longer black tipped ears, longer tails and longer more powerful limbs, enabling them to reach speeds of potentially 45mph – making them Britain’s fastest land animal….

Brown Hare Wimog via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32750626@N07/3760703539/

Their breeding season is between January and August – and is accompanied by high jinx leaps, bounds and ‘boxing’ – (hares can jump backwards and sideways as well as forwards)…. We associate this mad behaviour with March but this is only because it is more visible to us in March and April. We also often assume the boxing is two males fighting – but more often it is the female throwing the punches….trying to ward off an over-amorous male – she may also be seeing how strong he is and deciding whether he is a worthy mate….

Brown Hares naturelengland via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturelengland/14590700893/

A male hare is called a ‘jack’, whereas the female is known as a ‘jill’…. She will produce up to 3 litters a year of up to 4 leverets at a time…. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in burrows but have simple nests; the young are born with fur and open eyes….

Generally hares are solitary or live in pairs; the collective name is a ‘drove’…. Hares are herbivores, eating herbs, bark and twigs but mainly grass in the Winter months….they do not hibernate….

Winter hare Tomi Tapio via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomitapio/4797323020/

The hare population in the UK is under serious threat; since the late 1800s the numbers have declined by some 80%. Predators include foxes, weasels, stoats, polecats, buzzards and golden eagles – but the biggest predator of all has to be man. Traditionally the hare is a game animal – it is also sometimes considered a pest as it can cause damage to crops and cereal. Around 300,000 a year are shot in Britain; unlike much other game the hare is not protected by a closed hunting season, so even during the breeding season they can be shot. This in itself is a double whammy for the hare population as it means by killing the adults their young are left to starve….

Brown Hares in the stubble Ian-S via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/Ian-s/6629931133/

Disease takes its toll; particularly European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) which is highly contagious – (hares are not affected by Myxomatosis)…. Other causes of death include being killed on roads and by farm machinery – especially during grass cutting time…. Another major contributor to their decline is modern-day farming methods….in the last 50 years 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed in the UK – depriving the brown hare of shelter and food….

These wonderful creatures have been around since the time of the dinosaurs (proven by fossil evidence)…. It would be unthinkable to allow the European brown hare to disappear from Britain altogether – the least we can do is to stop shooting them!

European Hare Sergei Yeliseev via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/4561167961/